Life insurance

10 May 2017

Account designations in favor of an ex-spouse

For decades, Texas law has provided that a designation of a spouse as a beneficiary in a life insurance policy or a will is rendered void by a divorce. The exceptions are limited. The provision regarding life insurance policies is found in Section 9.301 of the Texas Family Code. The provision regarding wills is found in Section 123.001 of the Texas Estates Code. These provisions often arise in my life insurance beneficiary dispute practice and in estate disputes. Until recently, there was no similar provision regarding beneficiary designations for multi-party financial accounts. In 2015, the Texas legislature added Texas Estates […]
21 December 2016

Challenging non-testamentary designations

Much of the “action” in probate litigation these days does not involve challenges to testamentary dispositions.  Instead, I see more of a trend in my practice of challenges to beneficiary designations.  Those include designations for: life insurance accidental death insurance bank accounts investment accounts 401k accounts IRA accounts certificates of deposit ERISA accounts Typically, a letter to an institution asserting a challenge will be sufficient to put payment in suspense.  That will lead to a period of opportunity for negotiation and, failing that, an interpleader suit.  I have encountered a few situations where a financial institution, usually a brokerage, will demand […]
11 May 2016

Mind your QDRO

I routinely handle life insurance beneficiary disputes. As I mentioned in a previous post, the first issue I analyze is whether the life insurance policy is governed by state law or by a federal law known as ERISA. Many ERISA policy disputes involve claims by former spouses to life insurance benefits.  Many states bar former spouses from receiving life insurance benefits if the designation was  made prior to the divorce. But such state laws are generally superseded by ERISA.  Often there is a claim that the former spouse waived their beneficiary status in the divorce decree.  A state divorce decree judgment […]
10 December 2015

Determining if a life insurance policy is governed by ERISA

One of the first questions I ask a potential client with a life insurance dispute is whether or not the insured obtained the policy through their employer.  This helps me determine whether state or federal law applies to the dispute. This is crucial because the particular federal law that governs employee benefits, ERISA, preempts most state law rights and remedies. It also generally determines the forum where the dispute will be heard and if a jury will be involved in deciding the case. ERISA typically applies when an employee obtains life insurance through an employer, even when the employer may […]
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